If you're reading this article on the train, during a break in class or at work (hey! get back to work!), look around you. Someone nearby is superstitious. Is it you? In the year 2000, one in four Americans admitted to being "very" or "somewhat" superstitious [source: Moore]. People typically engage in superstitious behavior as a good luck charm — to prevent bad luck from happening. Is it true, to paraphrase what Stevie Wonder sang in his famous song "Superstition," when you believe in things that you don't understand, do you suffer?
Most superstitions, or "magical thinking" as some call it, come from the human condition of seeking order and intention in our random, unstable world. Author Matthew Hutson says that believing and acting upon superstitions "... provides a sense of meaning in life. You feel like what happens to you is part of a larger narrative. The universe cares about you. And if something bad happens, you're more likely to view it as a lesson or calling to do something positive" [source: Goudreau].
Now that we have a bit of background about superstitions, let's look into why some people believe that if three people are photographed together, the middle one will die first.
Although historians are unsure of the origins of the middle person in a photograph of three meeting his maker first, this superstition seems to feature heavily in Asian superstition [source: Jensen]. Writer David Lamb mentions it in an article about superstition in Vietnam, stating that Vietnamese folklore is a mixture Buddhism, local tradition, ancestor worship, and paganism [source: Lamb]. The "three in a photo" danger even made its way into Japanese anime, although in this particular case it's a goat and not a person who dies (and later haunts an estate) in an episode of "Urusei Yatsura" [source: Poitras]
This belief still rings true today, passed down through generations. Some people will simply avoid having photos taken in groups of three. Of course, now in the days of cell phone cameras and "selfies," the younger generation are less likely to take this superstition as seriously as their parents or grandparents did.
However, if this superstition gives you the willies, we have a suggestion. Add a fourth friend — and if you can't, grab a stranger so you have an even number. Think of it as a "safety photobomb."
- Asian Recipe. "Superstitions and Beliefs Related to Death." Sept. 11, 2012. (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.asian-recipe.com/philippines/ph-information/superstitions-and-beliefs-related-to-death.html
- Friends of Oak Grove Cemetery. "Victorian Funeral Customs and Superstitions." 2008. (Jan. 4, 2015) http://friendsofoakgrovecemetery.org/victorian-funeral-customs-fears-and-superstitions/
- Goudreau, Jenna. "Superstitions And Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Sane." Forbes. April 13, 2012. (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/04/13/superstitions-and-magical-thinking-how-irrational-beliefs-keep-us-sane/
- Jensen, K. Thor. "10 Weird Superstitions That People Believe Will Kill You." Mandatory. Jan. 24, 2013. (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.mandatory.com/2013/01/24/10-weird-superstitions-that-people-believe-will-kill-you/4
- Lamb, David. "Superstition Has High Place in Vietnam." Los Angeles Times. Dec. 29, 2000. March 14, 2015. http://articles.latimes.com/2000/dec/29/news/mn-5924
- Moore, David W. "One in Four Americans Superstitious." Gallup. Oct. 13, 2000. (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.gallup.com/poll/2440/One-Four-Americans-Superstitious.aspx
- Poitras, Gilles. "The Anime Companion 2: More What's Japanese in Japanese Animation?" Stone Bridge Press. June 1, 2005. (March 14, 2015) https://books.google.com/books?id=5x_mBQAAQBAJ&dq=3+people+photographed+together+one+will+die+superstition&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Schreiber, Mark. "You may find mei mystifying." The Japan Times. Oct. 20, 2013. (Jan. 4, 2015) http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2013/10/20/language/you-may-find-mei-mystifying/#.VKNJgAIALo